The story of Avalon Hill is inseparably tangled with the history of wargaming, and from a larger perspective, the evolution of serious adult gaming in general.
It began in 1953, when Charles S. Roberts designed a game called Tactics. In it, two hypothetical countries -- Blue and Red -- waged war with generic post-WW2 armies in a fictitious setting. The board was gridded off in squares and marked with significant terrain -- cities, roads, rivers, forests, and mountains. Armies were equal but the terrain was asymmetrical. The game was distributed through The Stackpole Company.
Tactics was something new. Prior to the appearance of Tactics, strategy games were abstract (like Chess or Morris) while popular games, even those with themes, relied on luck more than strategy. By deviating from those traditions, Avalon Hill created a new type of game that appealed to a new type of gamer. It didn't immediately set the world on fire, but the game developed a body of devoted followers. Sales of the first 2,000 copies persuaded Roberts that a market existed for themed strategy games, so in 1958 he founded the Avalon Hill Company.
The first year saw the publication of two games, the brand new Gettysburg and the revamped Tactics II. By 1963, Avalon Hill had 18 games in print. Half of these were wargames: Gettysburg, Tactics II, U-Boat, Chancellorsville, D-Day, Civil War, Waterloo, Bismarck, and Stalingrad. The others covered various non-war topics with titles such as Verdict II, Management, Le Mans, Air Empire, Nieuchess, and Dispatcher. All were fairly simple and quick to play, but each did a good job of capturing the distinct flavor of its subject. The nine wargames accounted for most of the company's sales.
From these beginnings sprang the entire modern industry of serious, adult board games.
In 1963, however, the company hit hard times financially. Roberts left and turned "The Hill" over to its largest creditor, Monarch Printing. Tom Shaw, a friend of Roberts and one of the few staffers to stay on, took over the job of running the company. Eric Dott, president of Monarch Printing, provided business guidance.
One of the first endeavors of the reorganized company was publishing "The General," a magazine that supported Avalon Hill games. The magazine had a powerful influence in those early years. It helped to put gamers in touch with one another for face-to-face or postal play, allowed players to share their favorite game strategies, and generally fostered a sense of community.
Through the rest of the '60s and '70s, Avalon Hill was a trendsetter in the wargame and adult game market. As the number of players grew, other companies appeared and began publishing their own wargames and wargaming magazines. Eventually, SPI (Simulations Publications, Inc.) surpassed Avalon Hill in both number of games published and overall yearly sales, but individually, Avalon Hill titles still outsold all competition.
A subsidiary company of Avalon Hill, Victory Games, was built around a core of experienced SPI staff designers when that company collapsed from financial stress. VG published a string of ground-breaking, award-winning military simulation games in the 1980s.
Along with wargames, Avalon Hill continued publishing sports games, abstract strategy games, trivia games, puzzle games, business games, and party games. Eventually it branched into card games, fantasy and science fiction themes, role-playing games, and even computer games.
By the late '90s, however, the wargame market was substantially different from what it had been even a few years before. Change was brought about not only by the popular explosion of computer games and home gaming consoles, but also by shifts in retail businesses and the way people shopped for entertainment. Once again, Avalon Hill was struggling financially.
In 1998, Hasbro, Inc. bought Avalon Hill, bringing it into the family of game and toy giants that includes Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Kenner, and Wizards of the Coast.
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